Friday, September 25, 2015

The Death of Caesar (1867)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Death of Caesar

Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome on the Ides of March (March 15), 44 BC. Characteristically, Gérôme has depicted not the incident itself, but its immediate aftermath. The illusion of reality that Gérôme imparted to his paintings with his smooth, polished technique led one critic to comment, "If photography had existed in Caesar's day, one could believe that the picture was painted from a photograph taken on the spot at the very moment of the catastrophe." [The Walters Art Museum]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gustave Courbet (1867)

 Gustave Courbet: Deer in a Snowy Landscape
Gustave Courbet: Poachers in the Snow

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Napoleon and his General Staff in Egypt (1867)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Napoleon and his General Staff in Egypt

The painting Napoleon and His General Staff in Egypt depicts Napoleon and his troops riding camels through the desert, accompanied by several Bedouins on horseback. According to the writer Earl Shinn, who included a photogravure of the painting in his book Gérôme, A Collection of the Works of J. L. Gérôme in One Hundred Photogravures, the somber general is retreating from the bloody and failed siege of Acre, Syria: 'mounted on his ungainly beast of burden, in this burning and dreary march... with his discontented and defeated army around him...[Napoleon] experiences, for the first time, the bitterness of disappointed ambition.' [Christie's]

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Sahara (1867)

Gustave Guillaumet: The Sahara

An eye-catcher at the Salon of 1868, this work by Guillaumet makes a break with Orientalist paintings of the time. Whereas many of his contemporaries gave a deliberately idealised or anecdotal picture of North Africa, here we have a poignant vision, which focuses on the essential. "Never has the infinite nature of the desert been painted in a simpler, more grandiose and more moving way," was Théophile Gautier's comment. The harshness of the landscape, the feeling of solitude and desolation are heightened by the division of the painting into wide horizontal bands, the implacable monotony broken only by the presence of men and animals in the distance. From the skeleton in the foreground, frozen in cool tones, we slide imperceptibly towards the glow surrounding the improbable caravan looming on the horizon.

With a remarkable economy of means, a subtle graduation of planes which mingles the dusty stretch of the vast plain with the hazy sky, Guillaumet manages to capture the quintessence of the desert. Particular about naturalistic details, he nonetheless manages to preserve the dreamy, timeless character that the public of the time associated with the Orient. [Musée d’Orsay]

Monday, September 14, 2015

Interior of a Tavern (1867)

François Bonvin: Interior of a Tavern

In the Louvre Museum, Bonvin admired the genre paintings of the 17th-century Dutch and French masters and was also inspired by the works of the recently rediscovered Jean-Siméon Chardin, the 18th-century French still-life and genre painter. This work recalls The Card Players, a painting by the Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch. The placard hanging on the wall in the background bears the title GOODWIN, which is both an allusion to his family's inn, Le Bon Vin, in Vaugirard on the outskirts of Paris, and a play on the artist's surname Bonvin, or "good wine." [The Walters Art Museum]

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Premiere Caresses (1866)

William Bouguereau: Premiere Caresses

The present work clearly shows the influence of Raphäel, whom Bouguereau revered.  With his paintings owing as much to the sacred as to the profane, Bouguereau's choice of the simple and innocent lives of Roman peasants as his subjects eloquently served his artistic aims.  In Premières Caresses, the parallels between mother and baby and the Virgin and Child are unmistakable. The painting also bears witness to the family values Bouguereau held dear.

Marc de Montifaud in his review of the 1866 Salon wrote of the master composition, "Nothing could be more seductive, more supple, more correct than the fluent lines of Premières Caresses, in which the eyelids of the young woman, so warm in tone and character, have an irresistible softness directed at the naked plump child who has just been lifted from his cradle; his flesh has the qualities of a sculpture, displays a harmony of tonalities, is soft as worked clay, and has a roundness that has nowhere been better observed." [Sotheby’s]

Friday, September 11, 2015

Courbet's Lesbian Paintings (1866)

 Gustave Courbet: Le Revei (Venus et Psyche)
Gustave Courbet: Le Sommeil (Sleep)

Le Sommeil was originally commissioned by the Turkish diplomat and art collector of the late Ottoman era, Halil Serif Pasha, who had lived in Paris since 1860. The painting was not permitted to be shown publicly until 1988, like a number of his other works such as L'Origine du Monde. When Le Sommeil was exhibited by a picture dealer in 1872, it became the subject of a police report. One of the models for the painting was Joanna Hiffernan, who was the mistress of fellow painter James Abbott Whistler at the time. Whistler's relationship with Hiffernan ended soon afterwards, and his opinion of Courbet soured.

The Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures describes Le Sommeil as a "famous" painting. The painting created an impact in 19th-century art, because after the public display of Le Sommeil, a number of contemporary artists were influenced by the theme of lesbian couples. Repetition of this theme helped to lower the taboos associated with lesbian relationships. [Wikipedia]

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Her Pride and Joy (1866)

Leon Emile Caille: Her Pride and Joy

Sentimental portrayals of motherhood were an artistic mainstay in all countries in the 19th century.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Young Bather (1866)

Gustave Courbet: The Young Bather

The traditional theme of women bathing attracted Courbet’s attention repeatedly in the 1860s. This scene revisits a motif that excited a furor of controversy when the artist first broached it a decade earlier: a realistically fleshy nude enjoying herself at a woodland spring. But by the time the present work was exhibited, viewers were more accepting of Courbet’s approach. One writer praised this "beautiful girl" as "health itself, with an ample and plump silhouette … one couldn’t be more independent or more true." [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Summoning of Neptune (1866)

Jean-Jules Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ: The Summoning of Neptune

The painter Lecomte du Nouÿ primarily painted Orientalist and historical (mainly Classical Greco-Roman) scenes. His style was strongly influenced by Gleyre and Gérôme.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gustave Courbet (1866)

Gustave Courbet: Landscape of the Ornans Region
Gustave Courbet: The Stream at Brème

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Reluctant Bride (1866)

Auguste Toulmouche: The Reluctant Bride

A favorite painting of mine for the human drama depicted. I find most of Toulmouche's works to be on the vapid side - mostly showing elegantly ladies at leisure. This one, however, tells a story - an old story, to be sure, and one told by many artists in many lands. To me, this bride doesn't just look reluctant - she looks downright angry about her situation and the inescapability of it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Caesar and Cleopatra (1866)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Caesar and Cleopatra

The work was originally commissioned by the courtesan La Païva but she was unhappy with the finished painting and returned it to Gérôme. It was exhibited at the Salon of 1866 and the Royal Academy of Arts in 1871.

Gérôme's painting is one of the earliest modern depictions of Cleopatra emerging from a carpet in the presence of Caesar, a minor historical inaccuracy that arose out of the translation of a scene from Plutarch's Life of Caesar and the semantic change of the word "carpet" over time. [Wikipedia]